The Democratic showing in the election — not a landslide but decisive presidential and congressional victories — raises a question of the future of the Republican Party.
Nationally the party’s future looks cloudy. A New York Times map showed that more than three-quarters of the 3,100 counties voted more Democratic in this year’s presidential race than in 2004. And the Associated Press-GfK Poll found that one-fourth of Republicans said they were depressed about the results.
What went wrong? Sen. Susan Collins, who was re-elected by a large margin, puts “excessive partisanship” high on the list. Another Republican winner, Rep. Peter T. King, who got 64 percent of the vote in his Long Island district, told The Times, “We make a mistake if we are going to make our entire appeal rural and outside of the Northeast and outside of the Rust Belt.”
Gov. Sara Palin of Alaska, a star at the recent Republican Governors Association conference, agreed with both criticisms, promising to help the new Democratic administration and calling for an appeal to all Americans. She and others may have learned something from a campaign in which she was a fiery Republican partisan and spoke of rural communities as the “real America.”
The Economist magazine said the Republicans lost the battle for brains — the well-educated and well-paid — and the battle for ideas — “marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans.”
County-by-county election maps show not only a general shift toward the Democrats but also an increasing Democratic majority in most populous centers, while rural areas remain largely Republican.
More fundamentally, the Republican Party, long before George W. Bush became president, has gradually reduced its demographic sweep from times when its leaders used to boast of operating a “big tent” that appealed to all Americans.
The party’s platform in 1980 promised to oppose racism “shoulder to shoulder with black Americans” and to “pursue policies that will help to make opportunities of American life a reality for Hispanics.” It pledged to broadening “the involvement of young people in all phases of the political process.” Ronald Reagan won 14 percent of the black vote and doubled Gerald Ford’s 1976 Hispanic vote. The Republican vote had slumped since 1980 among blacks, Hispanics, Asians and 18- to 24-year-olds.
This year’s GOP platform doesn’t mention a single minority group except American Indians and, specifically, homosexuals, on grounds of a supposed “incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.”
While firmly denouncing bigotry and racism, the 2008 platform catered to a “base” that stresses issues such as federal strictures on abortion and same-sex marriage, which are supported by a declining minority. The party fared better under the “big tent” and should return to that model.